Cross-country hike to summit of Monument Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park, and some of the oldest rocks in California
Trip Stats: (from Pinkham Canyon Road approach)
Near Pinkham Canyon Road looking east, Joshua Tree National Park
"Mind expanding" is what designer Jonathan Adler calls Joshua Tree. For those who have traveled deserts in Southern California, hiked the dry washes, climbed rust-red and brown rocks and seen valleys that extend nearly to the horizon backed by mountain ranges, Joshua Tree is a special place. It's an expansive wonderland of sublime beauty. It was our long-time friend Scott's idea to summit Monument Mountain in southern Joshua Tree National Park around New Year's Eve 2017. Scott has hiked many peaks on the Desert Peaks Section Peak List, and he has tons of experience hiking cross country.
The views from the mountain's south ridge are incredible, and about 1/2 way to the summit, if you turn around and look to the southwest, you can see the Salton Sea, a large lake formed from overflow of the Colorado river when engineers in 1905 were attempting to deliver more water to irrigation canals . The weather was perfect: sunny, no wind, and 70 degrees. Fred and I had arrived from Boise for our yearly desert holiday fix.
We piled out of Scott's red pick-up 5 miles down Pinkham Canyon Road and stood in a sun-flooded broad valley of yucca, cholla and creosote surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. Looking north to our destination, we could see our ridge to the summit, but Monument Mountain was not in view. We started walking across the wash to the north.
Hike route to summit of Monument Mountain from Pinkham Canyon Road (black dashed line), Joshua Tree NP (North at top of map)
From edge of wash, climb up first hill to the south ridge of Monument Mountain
As you look north, you see a rise and it is best to get to the top of it and onto the ridge that will take you to the top of Monument Mountain. The trail on top of the ridge is faint and marked at somewhat regular intervals with small cairns. Once on the ridge, the route is a gentle rolling climb to the summit cone of rocks with washes on both sides. Some dry washes have deep rock cuts at the top.
Fred ascending to ridge from Pinkham Canyon Road in valley below
Looking at Monument Mountain summit
About 2/3 of hike distance, Monument Mountain finally comes into view. You can see faint trail leading up to the ridge after descending slightly down from the ridge into a broad sloping valley on your left and a saddle to your right. The climb up the stable metamorphic rocks to the summit is relatively easy.
Monument Mountain summit - 4, 834 feet
Augen gneiss at summit of Monument Mountain, some of the oldest rocks in California, age 1.65 bya (billion years ago)
Upon reaching the summit, we were somewhat surprised to see 2 people from the San Francisco Bay area that had hiked up via Porcupine Wash. When I exclaimed, "There's the red can!", one of them commented that it was just trash left on a mountain. I explained to him that it was a summit register, whereupon he signed his name. I told him that the register at Cowboy Camp in the Santa Rosa Mountains still had the entry I had written almost 20 years ago!
Mt. San Jacinto, the towering presence over Palm Springs can be seen to the west.
The rock at the summit looks and feels old because it IS old! These rocks record the earliest geologic events in Joshua Tree National Park - originated as sedimentary and igneous rocks that underwent metamorphism and then a couple of continent-building episodes finally to be uplifted during the Mesozoic tectonic events where it became fragmented. There are 4 units of this metamorphic complex within Joshua Tree. The augen gneiss on Monument Mountain is a metamorphic granite containing elliptically-shaped feldspar porphyroclasts in its layering (augen in German means "eye"). You can see these lighter grains of feldspar embedded in the dark rock. This type of rock has undergone Uranium-Lead geochronology from the zircon grains it contains to arrive at a date of 1.65 billion years ago, making these some of the oldest-known rocks in California.
Scott, Sue and Fred on summit of Monument Mountain
View to the southwest of the Salton Sea from the summit
Scott next to summit register, Eagle Mountains in the distance
The way down is straightforward - follow the ridge! This is a good first-time cross country hike for the hiker that wants to get off a well-trodden path and do some fairly easy navigation with a good topo map. There's a smaller ridge to the right (southwest) as you head down and we took it for a little while about 1/2 mile down, but then got back on the main ridge.
Once we finally found the truck on Pinkham Canyon Road, we savored the setting sun illuminating the cholla cactus making them glow among the yucca and creosote.
Kaiser, J. 2017. How Geology formed Joshua Tree National Park. Retrieved from
Powell, Robert E. 2001. Geologic Map And Digital Database of the Porcupine Wash 7.5 minute quadrangle, Riverside County, California, U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 01-030, scale 1:24,000, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
Trent, D.D. 1998. Geology of Joshua Tree National Park, from California Geology, Dept. of Conservation, Divsion of Mines and Geology.
Roger Keezer, Coachella Valley Hiking Club hike leader, Search and Rescue Volunteer for Riverside County Sheriff, and great friend conceived the phrase, "Cactus to Clouds", a now well-known extreme hike. Fred and I recently hiked with his wife, Maria, to his memorial in the mountains near Palm Springs, California.
I've a vague memory of the first time I met Roger and Maria Keezer 26 years ago. We were among other hiking enthusiasts invited to the first meeting of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club, founded by Philip Ferranti. Ideas for a new hiking club were being considered: what kind of hikes should we offer, to where, how do we rate their difficulty, and who wants to be a hike leader?
Etched in my memory, however, is Roger's silhouette as he climbed in front of the sun and up the steep side of a mountain, walking stick in hand, pack on his back, with shade from a canvas brimmed hat. He wasn't a big man, but he could take long strides and climb like a mountain goat as we trailed behind him, our legs burning and hearts pounding. I still marvel at Roger and Maria's strength and endurance, and their hiking accomplishments. They celebrated Roger's milestone years of 70 and 75 hiking rim-to-rim the Grand Canyon one day, turning around and hiking back the next day. To do this, you must be fit, as Roger and Maria were. Walking from the North Rim to the South Rim is ~ 22 miles with a 6,000 foot elevation loss followed by a 4,500-foot climb out of the canyon. They were "rim-to-rimmers" before that term became popular.
Roger and Maria Keezer, on summit of Quail Mountain, the highest in Joshua Tree National Park
Roger Keezer conceived the name for arguably the toughest hike in America - an extreme physical test that climbs from Palm Springs to the top of Mt. San Jacinto in one day - a 10,300 foot heart-pounding gain. In 1993, six of us, including Roger and Maria, completed this hike. When I asked for a name for t-shirts to commemorate this extreme hike, Roger quietly said, "Cactus to Clouds". Our event was then dubbed the "First Cactus to Clouds Challenge". This hike is on many an extreme hiker's and runner's bucket list.
First Cactus to Clouds Challenge - Summit of Mt. San Jacinto - 1993
(Roger and Maria Keezer standing 3rd and 4th from left)
On trail near Palm Springs, California
Joyous to be out of the Boise snow this winter, Fred and I hiked with Maria under a warm desert sun near Palm Springs, California to a place where we celebrate Roger's memory on one of his favorite trails - a place that meant a lot to Roger. It is here that friends and family remember Roger with cards, photos, valentines and poems. So wonderful were many things on this hike: the sun warming the cool morning, the scent of creosotes, the satisfying crunch of gravel under foot, and especially walking on the trail again with Maria. But, oh, do I miss Roger's determined steps and gentle spirit!
Roger and Maria started their hiking career after retiring from Lucky Stores in 1992. We all became hike leaders with the Coachella Valley Hiking Club. After many hikes, many miles, many stories, many awesome mountain top views, much sweat and effort, our friendship endures. Quick-paced with stick in hand and pack on her back, Maria still marches up and down desert trails, and I'm still trying not to fall behind.
Maria Keezer still hikes steady and strong
Roger didn't talk much about himself. It was a few years after I met Roger that he told us he was a submariner during his Navy days. He was a quiet man with a gentle laugh, who could serve up a great-tasting tequila shot for hors d'oeuvres, followed by the most perfectly grilled tri-tip for dinner. He had a beautiful mint-condition 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback that he and Maria took on "Mustangs Across America" - a trip from Las Vegas to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fred, Sue and Maria near Palm Springs, California
California Barrel Cactus - Ferocactus cylindraceus
Roger often had interesting stories about helping to rescue lost people in the Coachella Valley and San Jacinto Wilderness when he was a volunteer with Riverside County Sheriff. Those were the happy stories, however, there were also the stories of body recoveries.
Wildhorse Trail near Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California
"Teddy Bear" Cholla - Cylindropuntia bigelovii
Maria and Roger Keezer, Ray Wilson, Scott Tanner, Fred Birnbaum on Art Smith Trail, Palm Desert, California
The view from Roger's memorial is stunning. I could see many places we had all hiked together in the washes and mountains surrounding us. The air was clear and the sun high as we stood and reminisced about the last 25 years of our friendship - and Roger's life. It's good to know there is a particular place we can go to remember Roger, although for me his spirit is still present in and around the desert mountains that he loved so much.
View of Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness from the top of Murray Peak, Coachella Valley, California
Maria and Roger Keezer, Fred Birnbaum
September 23, 1929 - August 22, 2015
Dry Creek and Shingle Creek trails, close to downtown Boise, are relatively lush with vegetation and a great place to run, hike or bike in all seasons.
Interpretive sign illustrating trails in the Dry Creek Experimental Watershed
Dry Creek in December - Boise Foothills
Autumn along Upper Dry Creek
The Dry Creek/Shingle Creek loop is my new favorite trail close to Boise for so many reasons. There's a surprising variety of vegetation as you climb 2,000 feet. You get a beautiful creek ecosystem and a ridge ecosystem. You make many stream crossings over Dry Creek Trail with bunch grasses, sagebrush and Woods Rose by your side as you begin, only to end up above this in a breezy forest of Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir overlooking the Treasure Valley. We did this hike in November and still heard the sounds of rushing water and boots sloshing through shallow crossings in the creek.
Dry Creek Trail after intersection with Shingle Creek
The feature rock in this watershed is granite from the Atlanta Lobe of the Idaho Batholith; weathered outcrops stand along the Dry Creek Trail. One of the most intriguing aspects of hiking is that you get to experience the young and the very old in harmony. The 75 - 85 million year old granite breaks down into sandy loam and loam soils to give the perennial and annual plants a substrate to grow in.
At the Dry Creek/Shingle Creek intersection, we hiked up Dry Creek Trail. The topography got steeper as we neared the ridge. Most bridges across the creek are flat-topped logs especially helpful during elevated spring run-offs. Numerous waterfalls and moss, a forest thick with trees and brush make this Boise foothills hike enjoyable. Such a beautiful riparian environment so close to home!
After 2,000 feet of climbing, the ridge lies at ~ 5,600 feet in elevation, where the sound of water rushing over rocks is replaced by wind flowing through Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine branches. We saw lots of deer tracks in the snow and at the top a very fit-looking runner. At the trail junction sign, a short 0.4 mile spur continues to the southeast to join Boise Ridge Road. To continue to Shingle Creek, head on Trail 79 to the west. Soon the Treasure Valley is seen through the opening in the canyon.
Trail junction sign at top of Ridge 0.4 miles from Boise Ridge Road
Fun bikers near where Shingle Creek Trail starts to climb
After zig-zagging down from the ridge, the trail finally meets up with Shingle Creek, a narrower creek compared to Dry Creek. A couple of runners whizzed by us. Shortly after that, we met up with 4 bikers (above) that weren't doing the whole loop but were having a great time. Of course, we had to chat about mountain bikes and trails we had ridden. This part of the trail seems a bit long as it returns to lower elevation ecosystem of perennial bunch grasses and rabbitbrush.
Heading northeast up Dry Creek Trail
Last week, Boise was stuck in a nasty temperature inversion . For those who don't know what that is, click on the preceding link, but if you are from the Treasure Valley, you definitely know what an "inversion" is! When we're stuck in it, we talk about it at work, at the store, at the barber shop, at the coffee shop, as we are all in it together (except for the smart folks who drive to Bogus Basin to get above it).
Fred and I took a second hike up Dry Creek Trail in this inversion; we got high enough in elevation so that we could see blue skies ahead (see previous photo). We didn't hike the entire loop this time, but seeing blue when we looked up made us feel a little better - not to mention the beauty of snow on branches, and the feel of walking on soft snow.
Double Arch Alcove, Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park
Navajo Sandstone of the Double Arch Alcove - Kolob Canyons - Zion National Park
Taylor Creek Trail to Double Arch Alcove contains a treasure-trove of exposed geologic features in a relatively short distance. In the 450 feet of elevation from trailhead to alcove, the hike passes through three geologic formations. Like most box canyons, the hike starts at the lower, wider part of the canyon and climbs to narrower, higher walls on both sides. The towering wall seen from the north side of the canyon is Tucupit Point, and the wall seen from the south side is Paria Point. The hike ends at the alcove carved into Navajo Sandstone.
Geology aside, you can enjoy the sheer beauty of this hike because of the creek's waterfalls, the pines and junipers, and the colors and patterns on the rock. The Larson homestead cabin, built in 1930, lies at the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork of Taylor Creek. The Fife homestead cabin is located further up the trail. Both are preserved well, and you can imagine what it might be like living through cold winter nights in this canyon.
Early morning is the best time to hike along the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek to Double Arch Alcove because of the quality of the light. As the rising sun shines on towering red rock walls along the creek, it reflects an orange glow onto everything in the canyon. I feel like I'm enveloped in a soft light that relaxes me as I hike further. Everything is still, devoid of harsh shadows and colors are vibrant. The orange sand is soft underfoot and the creek crossings don't create an interruption in our stride.
Small pond near creek where leaves were slowly circling together in a counter-clockwise direction
Kanarraville Fold seen in Middle Fork Taylor Creek in the Dinosaur Canyon member of the Moenave Formation
- note chevron structure of folds due to compressional stresses placed on the rock
During the Mesozoic Era, Western North America was in a mountain-building phase with compressional forces due to the Pacific Plate sliding underneath the North American Plate. The rocks of the Kolob Canyons were squeezed, compressed and uplifted. In the Middle Fork Taylor Creek Canyon, this resulted in the Taylor Creek Thrust-Fault Zone and the Kanarraville Fold. The photo above was taken on Thanksgiving 4 years ago when Fred and I first hiked this canyon.
Gray limestone with bivalve fossils probably from the lower Carmel Formation
Gustive Larson Cabin circa 1930
Early Morning in Late November
Taylor Creek - Kolob Canyons
Reflection from Tucupit Point into Middle Fork of Taylor Creek
Middle Fork of Taylor Creek - Kolob Canyons - Zion National Park
Double Arch Alcove
The scenery becomes more intense as you walk up the canyon. Then suddenly a wall of orange and red Navajo sandstone with black mineral stains looms above. The lower arch provides a wide alcove with water seeping from its walls. This is in fact what probably the impetus for the lower arch formation. Ground water seepage weakens and dissolves the cement between sandgrains, breaking down the sandstone. Blocks of sandstone then fall from the arch, accumulating below it only to be carried away by wind and water.
The blind upper arch appears high above the lower arch.
The whole scene is enveloped in a warm orange glow that is a reflection of light from the north canyon wall. The terrain is devoid of footfalls because of the soft orange sand. The green trees contrast with the orange and red. And to have some snow along the way as we did when we hiked this trail on Thanksgiving 2013 was an added bonus.
Yucca in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah
Biek, R. F., Geologic Trail Guides to Zion National Park, Utah - Kolob Canyon Trails - Middle Fork of Taylor Creek Trail. Utah Geological Survey
Website - "Watching for Rocks - Travels of a Sharp-eyed Geologist". Blog post April 21, 2011
Website - "Zion National Park - Plate Tectonics"
Fred at cowbell at top of Dead Ringer trail climb
Last weekend Fred and I got out of our Boise mountain bike trail comfort zone and rode some Utah trails near Hurricane. The Boise ride we're used to is a steady gravelly climb up of mostly non-technical trails. Although this ride was not technical, we found our legs getting adjusted to riding over blocks of limestone and up and down roller-coaster-like arroyos and small hills that ran along the base of towering cliffs and then out into a valley. These trails were singletrack cruisin' and so fun as to bring a grin to our faces. Utah bikers must have a "soft tail" or a suspended seat post, we concluded. But we talked to a few other bikers and they all said they thought their hard tails were actually better. So, we concluded that our bikes are just fine and we need to get down to Utah for more mountain biking. The terrain can be challenging and it is so beautiful!
The initial descent down J.E.M. trail that puts you riding alongside a gorge was a little sketchy for me, so I walked a few of the steep switchbacks, while two young and fast kids whizzed past and out of sight (maybe I've seen too many physical therapy patients with broken bones and sprained ligaments as a result of bike crashes!).
Trails from J.E.M. trailhead (bottom of map) in the Hurricane Rim trail system, near Hurricane, Utah
Our Loop ~ 10 miles (J.E.M., Goosebumps, Cryptobionic, Dead Ringer and More Cowbell trails)
Cryptobionic trail sign and cryptobiotic soil
It seemed fitting that in a sea of cryptobiotic soil we would be riding on Cryptobionic trail. We admired the "geology-mindedness" and a play on words that the trail builders provided us. Cryptobiotic soil crusts consist of soil cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses. In arid areas, these crusts help prevent soil erosion, increase water infiltration, and are good sources of fixed carbon. A large percentage of the soil in this trail system had cryptobiotic crusts. One source I read said that it takes an estimated minimum of 45 years to for damaged cryptobiotic soil in Southern Utah to be restored if crushed.
Dead Ringer trail leading south toward J.E.M. trailhead and cowbell
The cowbell hanging from a post at the top of Dead Ringer trail is within easy reach as you get to the top. As we took a break at the top, several bikers hit the bell as they rode past it. The story, we heard is that the cowbell was found on/near a cow skeleton while the trails were being built. At the cowbell, you can keep going to the trailhead or you can take a left and cruise on More Cowbell trail. Of course, we opted to keep cruisin' on this great trail that traces the edge of the mesa we had just climbed.
Tarantula on gravel road in Snow Canyon State Park
The joy of riding More Cowbell trail and the beautiful single track behind me!
So much to explore in the St. George, Utah area, so little time. We'll get back on these trails, that's for sure! Longer loop next time!
Belnap, J., Cryptobiotic Soils: Holding the Place in Place
An early, deep autumn snow made a spectacular scene at Miner Lake north of Ketchum, Idaho.
Miner Lake, Smoky Mountains, Central Idaho
Surprises, unplanned elements, the unexpected - these things make some adventures more memorable than others. When I experience adversity or surprises, I feel a deeper connection and appreciation for our awesome American West. Filed in the “special adventure” part of my memory is the hike where I fell into a cold Imogene Lake in the Sawtooths while walking on an unstable log bridge, and the time Fred and I were caught in a summit lightning storm on Engineer Peak near Durango, Colorado. There was the snowstorm we walked in as we hiked toward Sunset Mountain Lookout in Idaho – and across the valley, a couple would spend the night in the freezing wilderness after getting lost in that same storm.
Miner Lake in the Smoky Mountains north of Ketchum, Idaho at 8,770 feet
Reflection in Miner Creek
A September snowstorm changed our plans to climb Norton Peak in the Smoky Mountains northwest of Ketchum, Idaho last weekend. When we got to Miner Lake just below the peak, the snow was 18 inches deep at 8,770 feet elevation, we realized we would need crampons to hike the rest of the route to Norton Peak, at an elevation of 10,300 feet. What we saw at the lake was incredibly stark and beautiful. Fred and I noticed immediately the lack of sound – no wind, no water, no leaves rustling, no animal sounds. Thick powdery snow covered green shrubs and grasses, and it weighed down fir branches. It was a winter scene that looked strange with the angle of the late summer sun.
The Prairie Lakes trail was easy to follow for the first 2 miles. Prairie Creek still had enough water to require rock and log-hopping to get across in order to keep dry boots. When we crossed this trail earlier this year on the Prairie Lakes/Miner Lake loop, the water was deep and we doffed boots in order to cross. As soon as we crossed Prairie Creek and started to climb south to Miner Lake, we found our way through ever-deepening snow by following tree blazes. Fred led the way by following a faint trough in the snow that marked the trail.
Coming out of the trees, a glaciated valley opens up with flanks sweeping up toward Norton Peak. Most of the rock was covered by deep snow. As we neared Miner Creek, the air was crystal clear and we could see still reflections of heavily snow-laden fir trees upside down in the water. The white-covered branches stood out against the azure blue waters. We had an easy trek through deep, light, fluffy snow to the shore of Miner Lake. The more you get out there, the greater chance you have at seeing a pristine, just-after-a snowstorm scene. We hit it just perfectly that day.
Silver and gold mines nearest to Miner Lake are the Solace, Weblock and Vienna mines near Smiley Creek, to the northwest. To the south, the abandoned mining town of Carrietown lies near the Big and Little Smoky Rosetta district where ores rich in silver, zinc, and lead were discovered in the 1880’s. Mining was the impetus for the Wood River Valley’s initial prosperity.
Approaching Miner Lake
During the last mile of this hike, as with all of our other adventures, Fred and I realize how much we love to hike together. We discuss what we just have experienced – the silence, the snow condition, the clear lake water. To be able to hike with my husband gives me even more happiness than the gorgeous nature of Idaho Mountains. It’s then that I realize I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but where I am at that moment.
Backpack trip to Alpine Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness with day trips to Upper Redfish Lakes, Lake Kathryn and Baron Lakes
Upper Redfish Lake - Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness
Route from Alpine Lake to Upper Redfish Lakes
Begins at east end of Alpine Lake and climbs ridge in southwest direction, climbs couloir seen on photo to descend into Upper Redfish Lakes
Our route (in red) from Alpine Lake to Upper Redfish Lakes and Lake Kathryn - Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho. Trail 101 goes to Alpine Lake and Baron Lakes. Trail 154 goes to Cramer Lakes.
Main trailhead is at Redfish Inlet Transfer Camp at the south end of Redfish Lake
Gully that climbs from Alpine Lake to saddle overlooking Upper Redfish Lakes
The most memorable trips are those taken "off the beaten path", those in which you make your own path, and you don't follow one that many before you have traveled. Wilderness experienced with many others is good, but wilderness experienced by yourself or just a few others transcends you to a much higher level of awareness. Looking forward to the solitude and beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains and lakes, Fred and I originally planned to backpack into Upper Redfish Lakes for 3 nights but when we saw the snow at the top of the gully from Alpine Lake we considered an alternate plan. We instead camped for 3 nights at Alpine Lake and took day hikes - one day hike cross-country to Upper Redfish Lakes and Lake Kathryn and the second day on the main trail to Baron Lakes. Besides, my pack felt too heavy with 3 days of food. In retrospect, we realized we needed lighter packs! We came up with a goal for our next backpack: bring just 2 days' worth of food, lighter packs so we could camp at the middle Upper Redfish Lake. That way we could get up early to summit Reward Peak, southwest of Lake Kathryn.
Climbing gully that separates Alpine Lake drainage from Upper Redfish Lakes
U-shaped glaciated valley - Redfish Lake Creek Canyon as seen from Alpine Lake Trail # 101
After hiking up the gully from Alpine Lake, then down to Upper Redfish Lakes, we got water from the lake outlet. It was too late in the day to summit Reward Peak, but we hiked southwestward toward it and then circled around, doing some Class 3 climbing over the steep rocks northwest of Lake Kathryn.
We saw mountain goat prints indented in the mud around the rocks. A breathtaking view of Lake Kathryn awaited us at the crest of the rocks. Lake Kathryn, the southern-most of the three Upper Redfish Lakes is named after Kathryn Mills, according to Iowa State University's archives of the Vandervelde Family Papers. This fact leads me to consider whether Kathryn Mills was associated with the Iowa Mountaineers, a group important to the Sawtooth Mountains' climbing history. This group led mountain ascents all over the world from 1940 until 1996. The Iowa Mountaineers claimed first-time ascents of 18 peaks in the Sawtooth Mountains in 1940's, including Warbonnet Peak in 1947, a challenging sheer-wall spire where all routes to the top are Class 5 climbing. Lake Kathryn is located ~ 5 miles southeast of Warbonnet Peak.
Lake Kathryn - Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness, Idaho
We scrambled for 9 hours, ascending, descending and route-finding in the spectacular basins and forests of the Sawtooths. The next day we decided to hike on the established trail to Baron Lakes. Smoke increased that day due to fires in British Columbia and Washington state. We ran into six women who were camping near us at Alpine Lake. From them I got advice on how to make my pack lighter.
Top of gully - Redfish Lake behind Fred in basin
Creek from Upper Redfish Lake
Upper Baron Lake
Erigeron at Baron Lake - Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Yellow Columbine near Lake Kathryn
There's nothing like the peace and rejuvenation your body and mind feel after spending multiple days and nights in the wilderness. There are things you miss, of course, like better food cooked more easily and no mosquitos. But once you get back home to your comfy house, there are many things you miss about the wilderness. Having only what my husband and I can carry on our backs for 4 days, having the legs to take me to stunning lakes and meadows, and the time to do it is a blessing. Reminds me of a quote:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived."
- Henry David Thoreau
Sue and Fred waiting for boat back to Redfish Lake Lodge and breakfast!
Our "get out of the cold and get to the desert" 4-day sojourn to the rugged and rocky trails of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona. We don't mind the Frost gelatos, either.
Day 1: Pima Canyon warm-up hike - 8 miles, 2,000 foot gain
Day 2: Finger Rock Canyon Trail to Mt. Kimball - 10.2 miles, 4,138 foot gain
Day 3: Tanque Verde Ridge Trail to Juniper Springs, Saguaro National Park, Rincon Mountain District - 14 miles, 3,000 foot gain
Day 4: Pontatoc Canyon, 7.4 miles, 2,000 foot gain
Finger Rock (left skyline) and Mt. Kimball (forested peak) from Finger Rock Canyon, Tucson
After the dust settled and Fred had recovered himself from skidding down the steep bank on the Finger Rock Canyon Trail, I found myself face to face with a coiled and ugly-looking rattlesnake, it's rattling causing me to stop dead in my tracks. First on the trail down, Fred had jumped away from the snake's warnings which caused me to run forward, thinking Fred was falling off the trail. But instead, he yelled, "Stop!". My first thought was how clever this snake was, its coloring the very same as the vegetation it lived in. Afraid that it might strike, I stood frozen, carefully getting my camera ready. As we stood gawking, the rattlesnake was finally satisfied we were no longer a threat, so it slowly uncoiled and moved away.
What kind of rattlesnake was that? When I consult the "Rattlesnake Poster" on the Arizona Game and Fish Department's website, it looks most like the Mohave Rattlesnake, "widely considered the most toxic rattlesnake in the U.S.". Or, it could be the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake. Anybody out there who knows which rattlesnake this is, let me know!
Pontatoc Canyon, Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Tucson
The rocky terrain of the Santa Catalina Mountains makes Tucson hikes tough and challenging. A 4,000 foot climb in New Hampshire, for instance, takes less toll on my legs than the schist and gneiss steps of the Finger Rock Trail. During the 4,000 foot climb up Finger Rock Canyon to Mt. Kimball, you will experience several life zones, starting at low desert zone with its brittle bush, saguaros and ocotillos. Vegetation dramatically changes as you top off at Mt. Kimball with Pinyon pines, manzanita shrubs, alligator junipers, and oak being dominant. The first mile of the trail is relatively flat, then switchbacks up to traverse along the east side of Finger Rock Canyon to Linda Vista saddle. From there, the trail rises more steeply, and is especially demanding near the junction with Pima Canyon Trail #62. There are a fair amount of people on the trail during the first 2 or 3 miles, but few make it all the way to the top. We like to do a "warm-up" hike the day before in one of the other Pusch Ridge Wilderness canyons so we can get our legs ready for the climb. A little bit of training beforehand and plenty of water makes this spectacular hike even more enjoyable.
Another advantage of Tucson hiking, besides the spectacular beauty of the Santa Catalina canyons, is the reward of a Frost gelato after a challenging hike. I wonder if we could get a Frost Gelato in Boise?
El Presidio Historic District, Tucson, Arizona
Saguaro National Park East
Creosote bush at Tucson Botanical Gardens
Tile plaque at the Tucson Botanical Gardens
This post is about a hike to Johnstone Peak near Ketchum, Idaho in October, 2016 in dedication to Henry Brown who passed away August 4, 2016.
Johnstone Peak, Ketchum, Idaho - elevation 9,949 feet
On our autumn hike last weekend to Johnstone Peak near Ketchum, Idaho, Fred and I were making our way through a pine and fir forest toward a summit of rocks silhouetted against an azure sky. We startled some elk that were grazing in the forest ahead of us so they quickly moved up toward the peak. Suddenly, we heard a bull elk bugle and saw what appeared to be its harem - 5 cow elk, probably those that we had startled, walking single-file above us on a talus slope, rocks clinking under their hooves. What an eerie sound! The bugle starts deep within the elk’s throat, quickly rises to a nasally high-pitched whistle, then ends in a grunt. We stopped on the fresh elk trail we were following to spot the bull elk, but we never saw it.
Johnstone Peak summit near Ketchum, Idaho
As we stood on this trail, the musky smell of elk around us, and the fresh elk tracks carved into the dark soil moist from the season’s first snow, we wished Henry Brown could have been with us, although we could feel his presence. He would have been excited about the bugle and halted with us while we whispered and waited for another bugle. Henry loved being in the wilderness and he loved elk hunting. If only he could be with us – but reality hit us swiftly and sadly. We would never get to be with him again. I unzipped my backpack and saw the folded sign Fred and I had made the evening before that read, “This Hike for Henry Brown”.
Pioneer Mountain range from summit of Johnstone Peak
Our good friend, Henry Brown passed away in August 2016 after a fearless fight with cancer found to be in his lungs earlier that year. Henry had faced many challenges in his life. He graduated from West Point Military Academy and raised two daughters, each of whom are Army officers and attended West Point. Henry’s long career sent he and his wife, Helen Joyce to many places in the U.S., but nothing would compare to the battle and challenges he endured in 2016. Henry and Helen Joyce were thrilled to be moving back to Idaho two years ago when he accepted a human resource job in Hailey, Idaho. Fred was even more excited that Henry was coming back to Idaho, for now they could hunt together again, as they had done 12 years ago when Henry and Helen Joyce lived in Boise.
Helen Joyce chronicled their struggles through this ordeal on Facebook. She told us about the good news, the bad news, the ups and downs, the surgeries, the optimism and hopefulness. And in the photos, Henry was in his usual positive get-up-and-go attitude, smiling while he was in the hospital or recovering, or walking with a therapist to rehab after a stroke he suffered after one of his surgeries. Once again, Henry worked hard and he didn’t give up.
Both hunters and military men, Henry and Fred formed a quick friendship 16 years ago when they met while working at Boise Cascade in Boise. They naturally “hit it off” because each was an Army veteran and each liked to spend time in Idaho’s wilderness. Quickly, their conversations turned to deer and elk hunting, and Henry, the experienced rifle and eventually bow hunter, invited Fred along on a deer hunt in Idaho. Fred told two hunting stories at a reception that Helen Joyce had for Henry the day before our Hike for Henry Brown. In one story, Fred told a humorous account of Henry’s reaction to a burned-up Coleman camping stove. After a long hunting day, they were keen to enjoy a hot dinner cooked on the truck tailgate when propane leaked from the valve and the whole stove caught on fire. After Fred stomped it out, Henry exclaimed, “Fred, that was interesting!” In another story, they had been hunting for 2 cold and rainy days, and hadn’t seen any elk. When Fred asked Henry what the chances seeing elk in that kind of weather were, Henry replied, “Well, Fred, if we leave the forest now, we have zero chance of getting an elk!”
Descending Johnstone Peak - Pioneer Mountains on horizon
On the hike down from Johnstone Peak
We waited a few more minutes on the trail to hear another bugle, but we did not, and the cow elk had moved high up the ridge, finding a place to hide from us. Once upon the summit, we took photos of each of us holding our sign, “This Hike for Henry Brown”. Now we were quiet, we felt Henry’s spirit around us, through the air, the sunshine, the trees, and the rocks. We remembered Henry, each in our own way while absorbing the incredible view that lay before us of the steep and rugged Pioneer Mountains to the northeast. The dark purple shadows in the deep, loose-rock gullies that run in jagged lines from top to bottom held white patches of snow. Sadness weighed me down from the usual jubilance and satisfaction I feel from summiting a peak. The sign I held for Henry Brown grounded me, pulled me down onto the rocks, down to reality. But I also felt happiness from having known Henry and our hikes together. I am forever grateful for his words of encouragement as I met the challenge of starting a new career, and the overhaul he gave my entire resume’. And there were those two games of ping-pong at Rickshaw restaurant in Ketchum while we waited for our table (maybe he let me win one).
On top of Johnstone Peak that day, there were no bugs, no wind. The light mountain air surrounded us and gave Fred and I space and warmth to ponder memories and talk about how brief our lives are here on this beautiful Earth.
We packed up our leftover food and water, our jackets and the sign, and charted a return route down the mountain. As we descended the summit pile of rocks and walked onto the grassy saddle before the next rise on the ridge, I looked up to see a golden eagle making slow wide circles against the sky. This was an unusual sight, for we often see hawks and less often eagles. Henry would have appreciated the markings under its huge wingspan and its graceful flight. We watched it circle and move on, and we moved on ourselves, the sun closer to the horizon. Time passes. I had a fleeting thought that maybe Henry’s spirit was soaring above us, and this would not surprise, for Henry seemed to have spirit that transcended.
I’m sure we’ll climb Johnstone Peak again more than once, and each time we are back on its summit, we will always remember our Hike for Henry Brown. And I will always be looking for the eagle.
11/3/1959 - 8/4/2016
The snowshoe hike to Sunset Mountain Lookout from More's Creek Summit north of Idaho City, Idaho allows for solitude and beauty on the way to the deep snow of the summit. You will work to get there, but the spectacular view at the top is worth it.
Our route and elevation profile from ID 21 parking at More's Creek Summit to the summit of Sunset Mountain Lookout (blue line).
We follow the forest road, then climb to ridge and go south, short-cutting the road and head straight up last approach (0.75 miles) to summit.
This winter’s snowshoe hike to Sunset Lookout in the Boise National Forest proved to be one of the most spectacular trips this season because of record snowfall in Idaho and a recent storm that provided 5 inches of new, fluffy powder over a firm base. On the last 1/2 mile to the summit, we followed a skier’s track that made small switchbacks up the steep, final face to the top, where an expansive 360-degree view of white and grey mountains surrounded us. The fir trees were white, too, with only a few inches of green showing beneath branches under thick snow cover. Grey clouds floated by us, now and then obstructing our view. It was a surreal scene that not many get to witness.
Sunset Mountain Lookout - 7,869 feet - 4 .5 miles one-way from ID 21 to lookout - 1,700-foot elevation gain
Fred and I make this trek every winter. We rarely see others, except the occasional backcountry skier. The hike starts at the Mores Creek Summit parking area. Once away from this, the noise from the snow machines that run to Pilot Peak on the other side of the summit quickly dies away. Once we saw a snowmobiler, by himself near the top of Sunset Mountain years ago. We dug him out of a snow hole.
After an initial climb for 1.5 miles, the hike levels out as it traverses across a broad, flat area through a Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest in a southeasterly direction. A break in the forest allows a first glimpse of Sunset Mountain Fire Lookout. At about 2 miles, you find yourself on a ridge overlooking a stunning valley with the Boise National Forest at your feet.
Unfortunately, much of this area was burned in the Pioneer Fire in August 2016. As the trail starts to climb again, you can choose to stay on the path the road takes leading to the right, or stay on the ridge with steeper hiking to the left (east of forest road). Further up, ridge and road meet at a small flat area where the top of Sunset Mountain finally comes back into view. This is where the real climbing begins. We hike straight up the final mountain face, instead of taking the gentler, longer road to the top.
Most years, we follow track(s) made by snow machine or skier. Oftentimes, when we bypass the road and climb the final steep face to the summit, we are able to follow a skier's track. However, one year, we had no track up this section and we were in thigh-deep snow! We switchback up this last steep section, staying to the edges of the forest on the right side.
Final steep approach to return to high road near summit - switchback to the right of the face near forest
This steep approach climbs 500 feet in 0.25 miles
Once on top, the breeze is colder and the snow is deeper, for the elevation at the fire lookout, which is manned in the summer is 7,869 feet. The incredible view of multiple mountain ranges is worth the effort. The edge of the Sawtooth Mountains can be seen toward the northeast. We wish we could hang out at the top longer on those winter days. We decide to get some pie at Trudy’s Kitchen in Idaho City. We’ve definitely earned it. The thought of warm home made apple pie and the stinging in our hands motivates us to start descending the 1,700 feet down to the parking lot.
Looking east over Boise National Forest ~ 2 miles into hike
Steep final approach short-cutting road to top
Final climb to summit lookout - back on road after steep climb that bypasses road
View of Sawtooth Mountains in the distance from top of Sunset Mountain Lookout
You never know who you're going to meet on the top of a mountain
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
To Subscribe to Explorumentary adventure blog and receive new posts by email:
About the Author